Hop Hop Hoppin’ Great Day

Easter is a wonderful time for family, faith and food. And plenty of all three. DOWNLOAD the coloring art above for your kids to color. Send me a picture of the results at skowalski@khtheat.com. Don’t have kids? Color it yourself.  :))

Easter – another great holiday in the Kowalski homestead, and another chance to enjoy some family traditions and amazing festive food!  It’s back-to-back eating bonanza – a big Easter brunch followed by a big dinner (with some snacking in between of course – now you know why I go on 4-5mile runs!). For us the whole day is a celebration of faith, family and food.  For most of Holy Week, various siblings are hard at work preparing incredible dishes for Easter, Jackie and I and the girls spend Tuesday or Wednesday preparing, seasoning, stuffing and cooking “Kowalski” Kielbasa!  This is a family tradition going back over 50 years.  Dad got the original recipe from his Mother, and passed it onto me when he and Mom moved to Florida. This tradition will carry down to the next generation as well.  I have to say, we did make a serious scheduling error one year by making Kielbasa on Good Friday – we had to wait until midnight to sample!   Sometimes we go to one of my brother’s or sister’s houses (have 17 to choose from – and with many of the kids grown, we have their homes to visit too!) but with COVID still around, we will be enjoying a smaller at home gathering this year!  We will be having a drive-by swapping of the wonderful traditional dishes on Saturday!    Below are a few traditional Easter dishes we enjoy that have an interesting history and symbolism behind them, along with a few dishes enjoyed with my “ski” relations.  As you plan your meals, (I published early so you could) think about incorporating some of these traditional foods. Then, when you gather around your table, share the stories about the history and symbolism of the food on your table.  And Happy Passover/Easter from your buds at KHT.  Thanks to culture.pl, huffingtonpost.ca, alchemy.com for the history, YouTube for video and womansday.com for the egg decorating ideas.

Click for some fun music to enjoy the tradition while reading.

Hot N Yummy – This currant or raisin filled yeast bun, best known as hot cross buns, is traditionally eaten on Good Friday to mark the end of Lent, which involves 40 days of fasting.  A 12th-century monk introduced the cross to the bun in honor of Good Friday. But near the end of the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I thought these wee buns needed to be reserved only for these special occasions: Good Friday, Christmas or for burials. The English believed the buns carried medicinal or magical properties, and Elizabeth didn’t want those powers abused. To circumvent the law, more people began baking these “powerful” buns at home, increasing their popularity and making the law difficult to enforce, so it was eventually rescinded.  When the British colonized Jamaica in the 1650s, they brought their traditions with them. Today the popular Jamaican Easter bun (which is really more of a loaf) is a variation of the hot-crossed bun, which is often enjoyed with cheese.

Eggsplainin’ the significance – Eggs are a must, and of course decorating them is fun.  Mine don’t come out so good, but they all taste the same. Eggs symbolize fertility and birth. Christians perceive the egg as a resurrection of Jesus, in which the egg itself symbolizes Jesus, who rose from the tomb.  Mesopotamian Christians first adopted them as an Easter food, dying them red to represent Christ’s blood. Eastern Europeans were among the first to elaborately decorate eggs, creating delicate wax relief designs on the shells to give to loved ones. Check out some amazing designs HERE. (I like the ice cream cones, gumball machine and vegetables plate eggs).

Start Crackin’ – Eggs that were laid during the week of Lent were saved as Holy Week eggs, which were decorated and also presented to children as gifts.  Egg-shaped toys emerged in the 17 and 18 centuries, which were given to children, along with satin covered eggs and chocolates. Easter chocolate eggs were first made in the early 19th century in France and Germany. The emergence of hollow eggs like the ones we have today came as techniques for chocolate-making improved.

 Lambmenting the past – or should I say “Going out on a lamb.” – Eating lamb is not only part of many people’s Easter Sunday meals, but it is also part of those who celebrate Passover, which occurs about a week before Easter. The roots of why lamb is often served in Christian households at Easter stems from Judaism and early Passover observances before the birth of Christianity. During the biblical Exodus story, Egyptians endured a series of terrible plagues, including the death of all firstborn sons. Jewish Egyptians painted their doorposts with sacrificed lamb’s blood so that God would “pass over” their homes while carrying out the punishment. Jews who then converted to Christianity carried on the tradition of eating lamb at Easter.

– In Christian theology, lamb also symbolizes Jesus’ self-sacrifice as the “Lamb of God.” And historically, lamb also symbolizes the onset of spring when lambs would also have been the first fresh meat available after winter to slaughter.

These put me in a pretzel – Originally created by monks with leftover scraps of dough and given to students as rewards, pretzels became a popular part of Lent celebration during the Middle Ages. Pretzels do not contain eggs, milk, butter or lard; ingredients which were avoided during lent. Thus, the pretzel became associated with lent and leading up to Easter.  Pretzels are also said to represent praying arms, while the three holes represent the Holy Trinity. In some countries, pretzels used to be hidden along with the Easter eggs. (I like to hide them covered with chip dip or mustard!)

It’s Greek to me – sweet Greek Easter bread, tsoureki, is traditionally served as part of the Greek Orthodox Easter feast. Tsoureki was also traditionally given as an Easter gift from children to their godparents. Different versions many include a citrus flavored bread topped with nuts. Traditionally it’s shaped into a braid, with a red egg cooked and tucked into the braids of dough. The bread is said to represent the light given to us by Christ’s resurrection and the red egg represents Christ’s blood. Another version of Greek Easter bread is cooked as a circle with red eggs forming a cross across the top of the bread.

Hamming it up! – The tradition of eating Easter ham can be traced back to at least the sixth century in Germany.  Back in the day, pigs were one of the few meats available to eat in early spring in Europe. In early years, before refrigeration, fresh pork slaughtered in the fall that hadn’t been consumed before Lent had to be cured for preservation. Curing was a slow process, and the first hams were generally ready around Easter time, making it a common choice for Easter feasting. Today, many families still serve ham as part of their Easter celebrations.  When Christianity spread northward, it merged with the pagan spring celebration of Eostre, the goddess of the rising dawn, with ham served during the feast. Early American settlers brought pigs from Northern Europe to America.

This can’t be Beet – White borscht, a traditional Polish soup with eggs, sausages and potatoes, is enjoyed on Easter Sunday morning.  The soup is traditionally made with items in a basket of food that Polish families used take to church to have blessed on Holy Saturday in the early 15th century. These Easter baskets were filled with things that symbolized every part of life, and their blessing was considered a sign of blessing for a bountiful year ahead – learn more at HERE.

Soup’d up. Mayiritsa Easter soup (μαγειρίτσα in Greek, pronounced mah-yee-REET-sah), is also known as Easter Sunday soup, and is traditionally eaten by the Greek Orthodox, to break the fast from Lent.  As we know, lamb is often eaten at Easter, and making Mayiritsa soup helped ensure that all the parts of the lamb were used. Visit HERE 

Kowalski Polish “ious” Favorites – check out these traditional Polish favorites.  Some of my top picks are:

Babka. Some call it the gift to the world of Polish baking. The name derives from the word ‘grandmother’, which might refer to its shape: like a grandmother’s wide, pleated skirt. The tall, airy Easter no-knead yeast cake is baked in a Bundt pan. I like it laced with rum syrup and drizzled with icing (custom dictates that it has no filling).

Makowiec.  Another Polish treat you’ll find on our Easter table is makowiec (‘mah-KO-viets’), a poppy seed roll spun like a strudel. With poppy seeds as the main ingredient, it uses the same type of dough as the babka, above. The texture is crunchy and nutty, and covered with sugar icing.

Horseradish and Kielbasa. Easter is a feast of smoked meats and ham, where KOWALSKI kiełbasa (KEEW-basa’) takes center stage. This special sausage is homemade of finely ground pork butt, with the addition of special seasonings, then covered in  thin  pork casings. Whether it’s in the żurek soup or amongst the food samples carried in the Easter basket, white sausage is mostly served boiled – sometimes with horseradish (my favorite – the fresher the better), mustard, or ćwikła (horseradish-beetroot relish).

Ham and Spaetzle.  The perfect one/two combo for Easter (spaetzle or spatzle made by one of my sisters from an old family recipe) is both a German and Polish that compliments the meat, handmade with eggs, flour, water and salt.  Of course, a little gravy on top – oh, bring it on!

Kolochy. Kolaches are Czech (and Polish) pastries made of a yeast dough and usually filled with fruit, but sometimes cheese. The ultra-traditional flavors — such as poppy seed, apricot, prune and a sweet-but-simple farmer’s cheese — can be traced back to the pastry’s Eastern European origin. I think there is some secret ingredient inside, as I can never eat just one! Another of my sisters bring these to all of us!

How about you? Do you have a busy Easter day topped off by a big meal?  What do you serve for Easter/Passover meals with your family? Be sure to share your favorite traditions and recipes.  Email me at skowalski@khtheat.com.


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